There’s a widespread perception that the role of finance is to run a tight ship, know when to slam the brakes and be the authority figure that is there to say “no.”
But Neville Kotval, who heads finance for Cloud and Network Services, says he sees his role as a business partner and enabler who helps stakeholders reach their destinations.
Indeed, at Nokia, there is more to money than meets the eye.
“Business partnering is our team’s primary function, helping to drive the success and profitability of the business,” he said. “In some cases, you’ve got to be the voice of reason, the one who helps shape the deal so that you can get to ‘yes.’ Rather than being perceived as ‘sales prevention’ though, our role is to help structure the terms and conditions that maximize revenue and help our partners understand the criteria needed to meet the company’s financial objectives.”
At CNS, that means putting operational control of all elements inside the business group and having the finance team work with its partners to meet the collective objectives. At the highest level, those objectives break down into three categories from a finance perspective: profitability, return on capital employed and cash generation.
As part of the transition that CNS is going through, the finance team led by Kotval participate in all aspects of the business from the selection of investment areas to lifecycle management and controlling costs to forecasting and driving business results. As CNS evolves the portfolio toward SaaS and cloud-based offerings, Finance also plays a pivotal role in pricing schemes, enterprise resource planning requirements and revenue recognition.
This kind of “operational finance,” as Kotval refers to it, amounts to much more than just managing money. At CNS, that adds up to more than three billion Euro in annual sales.
“For Finance to be fully effective, some knowledge of the product portfolio and how it applies to our customers is essential,” he said.
For Kotval, who oversees a team of 140 people, it’s been helpful to have his varied background.
He was born on Vancouver Island and earned an undergraduate degree in biology at the University of British Columbia, then pursued a Master of Business Administration, finance and international business at the University of Victoria and finally received a CFA designation in 2011.
He relocated to Ottawa in 1994, during the coldest winter on record, to join Newbridge Networks as the business manager for the Asia Pacific group and has remained in the Canadian capital ever since. Aside from a brief stint with a couple of startups he’s essentially also stayed at the same company through its evolution, as Newbridge was acquired by Alcatel, which later merged into Alcatel-Lucent, which was later acquired by Nokia.
On his journey to a pure finance role, he’s also held a variety of other positions over the years, ranging from business manager to marketing to pre-sales to project management, all of which had a finance component. He’s also overseen various regions, resulting in extensive international experience.
“I like to be able to help drive things, and the background I have enables me to bring additional insights to the numbers,” he said. “I always intended to go down the finance path, but I thought I needed to gain expertise in other areas to be successful in the finance role.”
Kotval, 53, lives with his girlfriend near the main Canadian hub for Nokia and enjoys an active lifestyle around Ottawa. In the summer, he plays tennis, goes mountain biking in the hills and kayaks in the Ottawa river. In those cold winters, he’ll go skiing in the Gatineau Hills. And in any weather, he’s happy to enjoy a nice cold beer outdoors.
In true Canadian fashion, he used a hockey analogy to describe CNS’s Q4 revenue challenge. He explained that in typical Telecom capital expenditure cycles Q4 is the biggest revenue quarter of the year, with the graph bending like a hockey stick, as service providers and enterprises spend their remaining budgets.
Either way, it all added up to a winning outcome for CNS.
“In CNS, we are on our way to evolving our portfolio to SaaS and Cloud and to be #1 or #2 in all the product markets we choose to compete in,” he said. “It’s a great company and it’s got a lot of good things going for it.”